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I told her I thought she was courageous to have built her own company with her partners.
She answered: « What else do you want to do when the unemployment rate in your country is 25%… »
I met Natalie, the co-founder of Athens Insiders, at the Monastiraki Square after our day of exploration. My boyfriend and I decided to visit the Acropolis and the Arch of Hadrian by ourselves during the day, and we were kind of saturated by historical facts when we met up with Natalie.
Specialized in tailor-made experiences, she asked us what we wanted to do. « Anything but historical sites. We want to see the Athens of today, and we love street art! », we said.
We were in good hands to discover the city like locals.
With its piles of colourful chairs, antiques and bizarre wicker motorcycles, Monastiraki’s flea market was lively. People didn’t seem to mind the rainy day and walked around with a fast pace. It was a good starting point for our walk around Athens’ neighbourhoods.
We followed Natalie through the streets and she soon stopped to buy koulouri. Half-way between a bagel and a pretzel, koulouris can be found anywhere in Greece. Usually covered with sesame seeds, koulouris are the most common street food.
Greeks eat them for breakfast, with a coffee and a cigarette. We soon learned that breakfast isn’t the most important meal here, unlike what marketing drills into our heads day in day out in North America. Finding a complete breakfast outside of the touristic zones is far from easy and Natalie confirmed that big breakfasts aren’t a tradition for Greeks.
Street Art in Athens
There’s something going on with street arts in Athens right now, and it is basically impossible not to notice the amount of graffitis.
In The Guardian, the artist Cacao explain the explosion of the street art scene since 2008 : “Partly it was because of this big wave of anger that started in 2008 and just grew and grew,” he said. “But also, as the crisis got worse, there were more and more closed shops and empty buildings. There were a lot of walls to paint.”
While it’s easy to notice the quantity of street art, it’s sometimes not so easy to find the best pieces through the visual noise. Athens Insiders is now working on a new street art walking tour and we were lucky enough to get a glimpse of it.
Natalie showed us pieces from the most famous street artists in town and we were amazed by the quality of the work.
The contrast created by the street art, the old Athens and the contemporary one gives the city a particular vibe. Athens is not a traditional European city and it deserves to be explored in depth.
Walking with a local allowed us to see a much younger side of Athens. An Athens the Lonely Planet doesn’t talk about.
Walking in the street, I noticed how many cats and dogs there were. Honestly, I never saw so many anywhere else!
When we passed by the mural of a dog, Nathalie told us it was a tribute to the riot dog, Loukanikos. During several years, this dog was present in every riot that happened in Athens. He passed away in 2012 and an artist paid tribute to it by painting it with a floating crown.
Trendy bars, secret theatres and mysterious art galleries may be hard to find for foreigners. I found Athens to be a lot more secretive than other cities.
It has a lot of hidden stories, but you need to know where to unearth them. So, look up to see all the gems, and let a local watch where you put your feet…
Thanks to Natalie and Athens Insiders for having us as guests for a private walking tour. I’ve tried many tours in my travel, and I never experienced one that was so tailor-made. Really, walking with Natalie was like spending an afternoon with a friend.